How Anti-Asian Activity Online Set the Stage for Real-World Violence

But that does not make the anti-Asian hate speech online less insidious. Melissa Ryan, chief executive of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation, said the misinformation and racist speech has led to a “dehumanization” of certain groups of people and to an increased risk of violence.

Negative Asian-American tropes have long existed online but began increasing last March as parts of the United States went into lockdown over the coronavirus. That month, politicians including Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Republican of California, used the terms “Wuhan virus” and “Chinese coronavirus” to refer to Covid-19 in their tweets.

Those terms then began trending online, according to a study from the University of California, Berkeley. On the day Mr. Gosar posted his tweet, usage of the term “Chinese virus” jumped 650 percent on Twitter; a day later there was an 800 percent increase in their usage in conservative news articles, the study found.

Mr. Trump also posted eight times on Twitter last March about the “Chinese virus,” causing vitriolic reactions. In the replies section of one of his posts, a Trump supporter responded, “U caused the virus,” directing the comment to an Asian Twitter user who had cited U.S. death statistics for Covid-19. The Trump fan added a slur about Asian people.

In a study this week from the University of California, San Francisco, researchers who examined 700,000 tweets before and after Mr. Trump’s March 2020 posts found that people who posted the hashtag #chinesevirus were more likely to use racist hashtags, including #bateatingchinese.

“There’s been a lot of discussion that ‘Chinese virus’ isn’t racist and that it can be used,” said Yulin Hswen, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, who conducted the research. But the term, she said, has turned into “a rallying cry to be able to gather and galvanize people who have these feelings, as well as normalize racist beliefs.”

Representatives for Mr. Trump, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Gosar did not respond to requests for comment.

Misinformation linking the coronavirus to anti-Asian beliefs also rose last year. Since last March, there have been nearly eight million mentions of anti-Asian speech online, much of it falsehoods, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights firm.